Pandora's Pill Bottle - 7

Actionable Insights for Local Communities Against Opioid Abuse

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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Communities, schools and government officials can take actions to combat the opioid addiction crisis affecting every corner of the country. (Graphic courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Actionable Insights:

-- Farmers/Ranchers: Prevent farm injuries to avoid need for painkillers.

-- Adults: Properly store prescriptions to keep out of wrong hands.

-- Parents: Communicate with children about drug risks.

-- Rural families: Make efforts to stay connected.

-- Schools: Serve as important information and service hubs.


OMAHA (DTN) -- Rural America is occupationally dangerous.

Something as simple as bending over to pick up a bale of hay and tossing it in the back of a truck can lead to a trip to the doctor, rehabilitation and prescription pain medicine.

Chronic pain from farm injuries can be an impetus for prescription opioid use and abuse in rural areas.

Preventing injury and managing pain following farm injuries can be effective tools to stave off a growing wave of opioid use disorder.

An estimated 3.1 million people work on 2.3 million farms and ranches in the United States, according to the National Safety Council. Each year, about 1,300 people die in farm accidents, while about 120,000 people are injured.

Opioids can be effective to deal with pain, but they can also be addictive and dangerous.

"If you have a farmer taking opioids as prescribed and it is helping them, allowing them to be functional, they wouldn't be addicted," said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, co-director of the Opioid Policy Research Center at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. "If they are taking them around the clock and it is not helping them -- even in controlled use -- I think it is very unlikely people can be on opioids long term and is helping them."

The first goal of someone with an injury should be to find a non-opioid alternative for pain, Kolodny stressed.

Combating opioid use disorder requires local and national efforts. The answers will be different depending on each community, but there are actionable steps that individuals, communities and schools can take to make progress in stemming the addiction tide.

DTN has been running this special series to take a closer look at the impact of opioid addiction on rural America, how it became such a big problem, and what is being done about opioids. This is the last of the seven-part series.


Studies show 90% of all teens who abused pharmaceutical drugs obtain them from home medicine cabinets or from a friend's medicine cabinet. One in four teenagers say they have taken a prescription drug not prescribed for them. In addition, prescription opioids can be a gateway to use of illegal heroin.

At home, it is important to properly and safely manage personal prescriptions.

If you no longer use but still have the painkillers, find a local take-back program to dispose of them. If programs aren't available, lock prescription drugs away and change storage locations every couple of months. Never share prescriptions with someone else. Medications are only to be used, as directed, by the prescribed patient.

Check out the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's advice on how to properly dispose of unused medicines at….

Parents need to keep open lines of communication with children and teenagers, and talk with them about drugs and specifically the real-world consequences of use. In addition, adults can become active in or launch community efforts to educate school-aged children on the dangers of opioids and other drugs.

One of the major barriers to overcoming addiction is the stigma attached to drug users. Often stigma prevents people in need of help from coming forward, for fear of public shame.

Working hard to foster a sense of community, and acceptance in rural areas of people fighting addiction, can be the difference between living and dying.

In many cases, people who survive drug overdoses are looking for second chances. Drug criminal history can make it difficult for recovering addicts to find jobs. Employers can make a difference with a willingness to provide opportunities.

Families who have loved ones addicted to opioids can help overcome stigma by linking with or launching support groups to help recovering addicts understand they're not alone.

Working through local churches to donate food, clothing and other necessities for families facing opioid addiction trials can be helpful.

Many children lose parents who die from opioid addiction and often have no one to care for them. A common theme in rural America is a high demand for foster parents. Encourage more people to become foster parents in your community, or consider being one yourself.

Often people with opioid use disorder in rural areas face a lack of available resources to recover. They rely on family, friends and community to aid in their comeback.

That's why expanding efforts in rural areas to keep families connected should be near the top of any to-do list in combating the opioid crisis.


In some rural areas, families have to travel hundreds of miles to see doctors. While telemedicine can be a valuable tool for these families to combating opioid addiction, many rural areas lack access to broadband internet. However, where broadband is available, schools can play an important role in providing services to families at schools via telemedicine.

Teachers and school staff often are on the front lines, so schools should train school employees to identify substance abuse in students.

In addition, expanded efforts can be made to provide the potential life-saving anti-opioid drug naloxone at school. This should include training staff on how to administer the drug.

Schools can establish random non-punitive drug testing at middle and high schools, to include specific classes of opioid drugs. Those tests should link results to counseling and mentorship programs.

Schools also need to continue to explore student attitudes and actions in using drugs. That should include student surveys to learn about attitudes toward prescription painkillers. Knowing whether students use opioid painkillers can help tailor educational efforts.

Some schools use local pharmacists to develop drug education programs, aimed at teaching kids safe medication practices, including knowing who should be giving them drugs.

Speakers often are brought in by schools to address students on a number of issues, including drugs.

It's important for schools to bring in public speakers who have survived opioid addiction, and who talk about the recovery process, but also about the real-world consequences of drug abuse.


Schools, law enforcement, youth, parents, businesses, media, youth-serving organizations, faith-based organizations, health care providers, and civic and volunteer organizations all need to organize to get on the same page.

There are many grant-funding opportunities communities can explore through organizations like the Drug-Free Communities program,…. Such grants can be used to develop broad education programs on the dangers of opioids.

Drug take-back programs are becoming more widely popular. Counties hit hardest by the opioid crisis have purchased incinerators to destroy potentially dangerous prescriptions collected in take-back programs. This is decreasing the chances that prescriptions end up in the wrong hands. More effort is needed, however, to provide more such programs and promote in the community services already there.

Since naloxone has proven effective in saving overdose victims, communities could benefit from creating county-wide naloxone education and distribution programs.

Since rural areas often have a lack of resources, including a lack of medical doctors, rural areas should also seek ways to incentivize doctors specializing in opioid use disorder to work in their communities.


Editor's Note: This concludes DTN's seven-part special series on opioids.

To see other stories in the series, go to:

Pandora's Pill Bottle - 1: Opioids in Rural America:…

Pandora's Pill Bottle - 2: How Opioids Become a Problem:…

Pandora's Pill Bottle - 3: Impact of Opioids:…

Pandora's Pill Bottle - 4: Battling Opioids at Ground Level:…

Pandora's Pill Bottle - 5: A Life of Hope Lost to Opioid Addiction:…

Pandora's Pill Bottle - 6: What Needs to be Done About Opioids?:…

Todd Neeley can be reached at

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Todd Neeley

Todd Neeley
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